Horse Author Interview – Deanne Stillman

Deanne StillmanName
Deanne Stillman

Website & Places you can find me online
The Book: Mustang

Where I am

Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I grew up in Ohio. Always felt I was born in the wrong state, possibly because I never liked ice-fishing.

I ran away to the West at an early age – in my fantasies, reading frontier tales about Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid, and Crazy Horse

I got there for real when I went to college at the University of New Mexico and on my very first day there, I saw a tumbleweed when I got off the plane. From then on, I knew I was free at last.

Mustang is about the history of horses in the west, what inspired you to write this book?
I grew up around horses; they were an important part of my strange riches-to-rags upbringing. My mother had several and was on the show circuit while my parents were married. She taught me and my sister how to ride.

When my parents got divorced, we moved to the wrong side of the tracks, literally – across the street from the racetrack. My mother’s most immediately marketable skill was horseback riding. She became one of the first women in the country to ride professionally on the track – as an exerise boy.

We were always around the stables. I was struck by the incredible service of the horses. At some point I realized that by providing my family with a living, they were saving our lives. I wanted to return the favor some day.

That day arrived in 1998 when I was finishing up my previous book, Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave. I was waiting to meet with a source in a desert bar. I picked up a local paper. An item said six horses had been gunned down outside Reno.

MustangThis was a couple of days after Christmas. Two days later, there was another story – now 12 horses had been shot. By the end of that year 34 wild horse carcasses had been found in the Virginia Range outside Reno.

I was horrified and thought who would do such a thing and what is happening to our wild horses? A few days later there was an arrest. Three men were accused. Two were Marines and one was stationed at Twentynine Palms.

At that point, a lot of things came together for me and I hit the wild horse trail. What I found was an epic American story that went everywhere and touched everyone but was barely known.

I had to tell it, and ten years later, I wandered in from the trail with the entire saga.

“With all due respect to our official icon, the eagle…it is really the wild horse…the beautiful, bighearted steed who loves freedom so much that when captured he dies of a broken heart, the ever-defiant mustang that is our true representative, coursing through our blood as he carries the eternal message of America.”

Do you look at the equine animal differently now, than you did prior to your research?
Yes. I don’t ride as much as I used to. I want to stay off the horse’s back. It has paid its dues, literally dying for our sins many times over. I don’t care if it’s wild or domestic. I just want to enjoy them.

With mustangs, it’s enough for me to know that they’re out there running wild and free for the rest of us. But their days are numbered, as I talk about in my book. We are a cowboy nation, and we are destroying the horse we rode in on

Who are your main literary influences?
I have many – Melville, Poe, Wallace Stegner, Willa Cather, Louise Erdrich, Charles Bowden, Barry Lopez, Mailer, Capote, Black Elk, Twain, Tennessee Williams, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane – it’s a long list that includes a wide range of artists who have inspired me on many levels.

Deanne and Mona

Image from Betty Lee Kelly

Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
While writing Mustang my animal must became Comanche, whose story I tell in my book. Comanche was “the horse that survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn” taken from the wild and pressed into cavalry service, wounded many times, and retired after the Little Bighorn with full honors.

An amazing, big -hearted war horse who was on the front lines with us as we took over the frontier. The wild horses that roam the West today are his spiritual and historical descendants. He is our “great silent witness,” as one of his early biographers said, and so are all horses, really. They have seen us at our best and worst, carried us through it all, perished by the millions and continue to serve – yet revert quickly to the wild if given the chance.

It is not for nothing that our greatest road trip car is named the Mustang. Soon it may be all we have left of our wild heritage – which would be a sad state of affairs for a country that reveres freedom

It blazed our trails, fought our wars, serves as our greatest icon. No horse, no America it’s that simple. If we lose the wild horse, we lost part of ourselves.

I’m hoping that my book can help head that disaster off at the pass. Judging from the many wonderful reviews and the passionate and large turn-outs at my events around the country, it has been doing that so far.

Deanne and Bugz

Image from Betty Lee Kelly

Last question – If you only had one sentence to convince someone who is afraid of horses to get on one, what would you say?
Don’t. There’s no need to ride a horse, although those of us who do ride know it’s good for the soul. But it’s not good for theirs unless you consider it an equal partner rather than a thing to be dominated and controlled.

In general, people need to stop and think about what the horse has done for us before making it take us for yet one more ride. Then, if you do keep riding, perhaps you can give something back to our equine brothers and sisters and try to save the wild ones, as they have done for us so many times.

Places you can buy Mustang
Iconoclast Books – Limited signed copies
Vromans Bookstore – Limited signed copies

More to Come

Thanks to Deanne for answering the interview and sharing more about her book. Be sure to check out her website for updates about her latest books.

Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists, photographers & authors.

Are you doing great things for horses or do you someone in the industry you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.

One Comment on “Horse Author Interview – Deanne Stillman

  1. Martha Leynes-Selbert

    This interview has to touch the hearts of those who love and cherish horses. How can it not?
    I waited until my children were grown before I was able to have horses and ride trails. Somehow I knew the day would come when I could give back to help horses who do a lot of suffering in their relationships with humans, even the well-intentioned ones. That is the reason I wrote my own book–a small paperback Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse with subtitle of Eliminating the Fear Factors. I had to learn the information in this book and now I have to share it. It tells what, why and how to teach a horse to be a true companion without using bits, spurs, longe lines, or round pens. It is with a recreational trail rider that a horse has the best chance to become this kind of companion with a human, and we have to start somewhere. If anyone wants to make an inquiry about this book (available at Amazon) please email at

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